Rhyana's story: my feelings of loneliness worsened while I was studying, working and being a full-time mum

This content mentions loneliness and death or bereavement, which some people may find triggering.

Rhyana talks about how her feelings of loneliness got worse when she was studying at university and working full-time at the same time. Most of her friends didn't have children as she did, so it was hard to find people who understood how she felt. Joining groups helped hugely but also that it takes time.

My name’s Rhyana and I work in the charity sector as well as volunteering with young people. I also host a radio show to raise awareness of Black mental health issues. I have felt lonely throughout my life.

I’ve felt lonely at many points in my life. Even when I’ve been around people. Loneliness is different to isolation - that’s important to understand. For me, loneliness feels like being in a bubble around people - like there’s something in between us - and even when the bubble bursts I’m still unable to connect or be myself.

The peak of my loneliness was when I was at university. I was working full-time, studying full-time and was a mum - also full-time! At the time, most of my friends didn’t have children and so they just didn’t understand my situation. They were partying and enjoying early adulthood.

It was difficult to find anyone who understood what I was going through. My son was a huge motivation and I felt connected to him. I was only 17 when he was born and again, I didn’t really know anyone else in a similar position. My friends would visit but it felt almost performative, they came to see me and the baby and then they were off living their lives. I didn’t have the same opportunity to be out and social, and it wasn’t my priority.

Photo of Rhyana

Sanctuary in solitude

I’m part of a big family - I’m the youngest of six siblings. Even in the midst of big family gatherings, I can sometimes feel lonely. And it’s possible to feel lonely and yet still want some space and time to me to be alone.

When I feel lonely it feels like I am unseen and unheard. It’s easy to feel small and insignificant and I can’t express how I feel. Even when things are positive, in the past I was unable to express myself - it was like a default up until recently.

I can see now that a lot of this started when I realised I was different to my friends. I lost my mum as a baby and as a little girl, I remember that Mother’s Day would come and go and I wouldn’t have the same experience as everyone else. I didn’t understand, though I knew things were different for me and so I’d stay away.

And that’s what I learned as an adult. To stay away and not burden people. Sometimes I’ve chosen to be alone and found sanctuary in my solitude.

Growing social circles

It’s taken a long time to work through things. But I am in a better place, I’ve grown new social circles and built my social capital.

I was very intentional with the groups I joined and the connections I made. As a young mum, I joined a programme called The Young People’s Project and they had programmes for other young people with children and it was fantastic. I made real lasting friendships. My son is 15 now and they are real friends - they shaped my growth and journey into motherhood. We shared mutual experiences and an understanding and relatability with each other.

Relationships and communities like these helped me to find my voice and that’s why I became an advocate. I’m able to share my experiences with people so they can share their experiences in return, opening up needed and necessary conversations.

A double-edged sword

While loneliness has at times felt horrible, the withdrawal I made from other people enabled me to focus on other important things - my motherhood, my education and my career. The experience helped me to feel comfortable with being myself and gave me the confidence to know that it’s ok sometimes not to want to be around other people.

I have friendships and networks that I can go to now for advice and guidance and help reduce the feeling of loneliness. Sometimes I still need to withdraw from people for a while, but I feel comfortable enough to tell them this, and they support me by checking in and showing they are there, without pressure for me to respond.

This is important for me. I like to choose to be in solitude from time to time, it can be energising and cleansing.

You can’t rush a process

It’s a cliche, but be patient with yourself. You can’t rush a process. There are still times when I battle with myself - whether I should go out or not, be around people or not. I’m a very social person and sometimes I feel like I’m letting people down because I don’t want to be out and doing things. That’s ok. There’s a huge expectation for us to be social, but it’s important to recognise when you need your own company.

Sometimes you may feel lonely and you may feel isolated. But we are all connected universally. You are part of something bigger and you will find ways to relate to people and to the world.

Ask yourself what you want from life. Define what and who you need to help ease your loneliness. Otherwise, relationships and connections can be overwhelming, and they need to be maintained and it’s easy to feel the need to retreat again.

Be patient, change will come.

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